Peak-bagging in the White Mountains

Living alone can be wonderful, empowering, freeing, fun.

It can also suck.

Like, for example, when you’ve just done something fairly epic and you have no one who is forced, by virtue of his/her being trapped in the same space as you, to listen to you retell the story, adding the occasional “wow” or “uh huh” at appropriate intervals. Dogs don’t count, because, well, they can’t speak.

Blogging just ain’t the same. But we humans are nothing if not practical and persistent, so I will use the tools I have and blog on, because, dammit, I want to tell someone about my Saturday hike in the White Mountains.

I don’t understand my recent obsession with hiking lately, but luckily, I am able to indulge such whims without it negatively impacting my, or anyone else’s life; after all, the laundry left languishing on the floor at home is mine alone. Sadie would probably argue that her life is negatively impacted, being that she’s often left behind when I embark on longer adventures, but, well, I will just have to accept that dog mom guilt. Because I’m pretty sure the tortuous 7 hours in the car would have erased any joy she’d have gotten from the 7 hours on the trail.

Anyway, I set out at around 5:45am, with a 2.5 hour drive ahead of me. Driving in Boston early on a weekend is bliss; I zipped through town and onto the highway. The sun was rising to my left, the harvest moon was setting to my right, mist was rising off of various ponds and rivers; it was magic, pure and simple. A wonderful start.

I-93 is so eerily familiar – I drove it a million times in my youth. It’s still a little weird to drive by exit 23 without my car automatically taking the exit…but it’s only a little bit weird. I feel pretty remote from that part of my life these days.

Anyway, I arrived at the Edmands trailhead around 9am and it was already fairly full of people. It was a beautiful late-summer-not-quite-fall day, and I set off with a spring in my step.

A little background for those unfamiliar with the Whites: there are 48 “4,000 footers” up there, and those tall (for us East Coasters, at least) hills have been calling to expert and would-be hikers for hundreds of years. I was headed for Mt. Eisenhower, which according to most articles, is one of the more “moderate” 4,000 footers, because, well, I’m still building up my fitness and skill for difficult mountains. If I felt good when I got up there, I planned to bag Mt. Pierce, as well, about 500 feet lower and a mile and a half away, and then loop back on the Crawford trail.

This is the 2nd time now that I’ve been lulled into the idea of “moderate” by a White Mountain (the other time can be revisited here). And objectively, it wasn’t like I was scaling a vertical cliff. Nope, the first three miles were just…up. Sometimes mildly up, sometimes more severely, but unrelentingly, steadily UP. There were no switchbacks. The trail showed a lot of use, which meant it was full of roots and boulders and mud and so I trudged, waaaay slower than I’d hoped, up the first couple of miles. I stopped a lot. I was passed more than a few times, and I’ve gotta admit, with no one to talk to other than the occasional fellow hiker, I was a little bored.

But eventually, I passed a trio of older hikers who informed me we were 500 feet from something (I didn’t catch what we were supposedly heading to) and that put some life into my legs. And finally, I saw a hiker ahead of me get out his camera. Yes!

We emerged to a brief view of the brilliant blue-green that is the signature of the White Mountains. I saw no evidence of changing leaves, by the way.

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And then, I turned back to the trail and blinked. Gone was the boring woodsy upslope – instead I faced a cliff of wet, black rock. It’s a sign of how I’ve changed that I said to myself “FINALLY! Something fun to tackle!” and up I went, slowly as always, but grinning nonetheless.

After I cleared the slippery rocks, I found myself on a flat ! trail that was clearly winding around something…and that went on for a bit. There was a slightly hairy place where I was stepping over boulders that were part of some kind of rock slide, completely exposed and at the mercy of a fairly steep cliff to the right. I wished for hiking poles in that moment. A few more big boulders to scale and then I reached the junction of Edmands Path and the trail to Mt. Eisenhower’s summit, which looked pretty steep from where I stood.

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However, there were a few dozen hikers at the junction, and they were loud and chatty, so I lit out for the top of Mt. Eisenhower pretty quickly. It was a short trek up, about half a mile, and not nearly as hard as I’d thought; just some scrambling and long rock faces. I saw this view along the way…I mean…come on.

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And then, the summit, marked by a huge cairn and 360 views of the mountains, including Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast, just two peaks away, looking tantalizingly inviting. The weather was completely perfect, which is saying something at a place where it (the weather) has killed people when it’s bad. But not today, it was sunny and windy but not too cold. So, so, so gorgeous.

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One sandwich and a bunch of water later, the gaggle of loud hikers had reached the summit, and I layered up and prepared to head down the mountain and on to Mt. Pierce. The trek down was as fun as coming up, with some helpful wooden ladders dropped in occasionally when things got too steep.

img_9557When I reached the bottom of Mt. Eisenhower, I found myself at a crossroads and had to get my map out. I set off along the Appalachian Trail (also known as Crawford Path), and had one of those moments that the chronically directionally-challenged among you will understand – even though I’d checked the map 17 times and confirmed with a passing hiker that I was indeed heading to Mt. Pierce, I still had that niggling fear that I could possibly be going the wrong way. So out came the map again, and this time I even got out my compass, confirmed that Southwest was the direction I wanted, and continued on my way.

Crossing the ridge between Eisenhower and Pierce was wonderful. Gorgeous views, easy hills. The biggest adventure on this stretch was remembering how to use the bathroom in the woods, which I’m happy to say I achieved without incident.

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Mt. Pierce was full of lovely views, too, but by this point, about mile 6 into the hike, my feet were starting to hurt, and I was feeling tremendous dog mom guilt, so I didn’t linger, and headed down Crawford Path, which is, for those who care, the oldest continually in-use trail in America. This path was basically a reverse of the Edmands path – a long, rocky, muddy slog through the woods that, I’ll admit, sort of kicked my butt. I’m pretty sure that every muscle in my legs rioted on me at least once on the trek down. I might have whimpered once or twice as the 3-mile trail seemed to go on FOREVER. It was also crowded, and several times I encountered lithe, gorgeous teenagers hauling giant boxes of supplies up to one of the huts, which of course made me feel totally lame for being tired.

However, I did reach the bottom eventually, only to have another 2 miles of road to trek before I got back to my car. I passed one couple who were talking about how much they couldn’t wait to take off their boots (YES!) and another group who asked me if they looked as bedraggled as I did (NO, they looked positively chipper…bastards). Despite my niggling fear that I’d again taken a wrong turn (even with multiple map checks), I did eventually make it back to my car, where I might have collapsed on the hood for a moment or two before violently tearing off my shoes and socks and nearly weeping in relief.

Then it was the drive home, which was made nearly 1.5 hours longer by traffic and other nonsense coming in to the city. By this point, the dog mom guilt was at its peak, but Sadie, the awesome pooch that she is, had not peed in the house and was super glad to see me.

However, going down the stairs to let her out that night, and the next morning, and the next night…yeah…ouch.

So, all in all, a good adventure. Can’t wait to get back up there and bag some more 4,000 footers. Thanks for reading and hopefully adding your nods and “uh-huh”s at the proper intervals.

PS: Summiting more than one peak is called, appropriately, peak-bagging, and it’s cool to say you’ve done it. I won’t lie.

 

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